It’s Disgusting, It’s Sickening, It’s…..My Keyboard???

CLEAN KEYBOARD - CopyEver wonder how the germs that make you sick make their rounds?   I’ve found myself wondering the same thing.  It seems like you just get over a cold when some nasty virus or the flu finds you.

I am obsessive about washing my hands, but it doesn’t seem to help that much (as far as i can tell) to ward off the often untimely bouts with bugs that eventually land me in the doctor’s office.

I never considered that it might be my computer- or maybe better said- computers and related devices (especially shared keypads and keyboards and mouses) that are the source of transmission of many of the illnesses that plague us. Just think about how many times you used a computer today.  Because I am an IT support technician, I probably touch 5 -10 different keyboards and mouses every day…which is a big number.  Most of those belong to the users I support, so the means of transmission is there. (I hate to think that I could actually be a carrier!)

What about you? Maybe you use your iPad in the morning to get the news.  Then, you go to the office.  (On the way, you might use a keypad to gain access to the building, press elevator buttons, etc). Then you work on you pc.  The tech guy comes by and loads some software; later, you eat lunch at your desk, alternating mouse clicks and potato chips. Then you work a while longer. You leave for the day and maybe go to the gym where you program the Stairmaster touchpad. Then, drop by the store and use the touchscreen (that was last cleaned only because the customers had trouble seeing the screen image…) for a quick checkout and head home.

Get the picture? Every time you touch something that someone else has touched, there is a risk–no, a likelihood–of picking up an unwanted bug that can find its way to make you sick.   So, it’s not just your own personal keyboard, but really all the devices you touch that put you at risk.

Ok.  I know we can’t be so paranoid that we wear gloves everywhere or compulsively wash our hands as often as a hypochondriac might. But here’s something to think about: a study by the University of Arizona (http://www.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/12/13/cold.flu.desk/index.html?_s=PM:HEALTH) reported that the average workspace including keyboard, mouse and work surface bears roughly 21,000 germs per square inch while the average toilet seat has only about 49 germs per square inch.  The unhealthy organisms include germs, bacteria, and viruses. Incidentally, the worst offender on the desk is the telephone! That’s a pretty disgusting statistic, even if it were only a half truth!

There are many studies found on the Internet which report essentially the same facts.

The biggest cause of computer keyboards being so germ-laden is eating while at the computer.  And many of us do it, even if just an occasional snack.  As tiny particles of food get on your keyboard they become an excellent breeding-ground for the pests.  Natural oils on our skin help create both the media for growth and the stickiness that helps move them from person to person.

So, what’s a person to do?  We can’t just stop using the devices that are so closely integrated into our life and work.   What we can do is to move the gross-o-meter to be a little bit more in our favor by doing some relatively simple things at our desks.  That is, until we get to the point that we can talk to the computer (a la Startrek) without the need for touching it. Here are some suggestions that might help you prevent a trip to the doc:

1.  Clean your keyboard with a disinfectant regularly. Don’t spray it directly, but spray the disinfectant on a soft cloth and wipe Dow the keyboard and mouse. Turn your keyboard upside down and shake out all the gunk that’s gotten lodged between the keys.  And don’t forget to wipe down the power buttons on the computer and the monitor, and the work surface as well.

2. You may want to get a plastic cover for the keyboard, especially if it is shared with another user.  Removable covers can be more aggressively cleaned or even soaked in soapy water.  Always be careful not to get any liquid directly on the keyboard.

3.  Buy a UV-C handheld light wand and irradiate your keyboard and work surfaces regularly.  I bought mine from CVS for about $12.00.  It kills 99% of harmful bacteria, viruses, and germs.  The light will damage your eyes and skin, so don’t expose either to the light it emits.  Incidentally, UV-C also kills mold, fungus, bedbugs and dust mites, so you might want to pack it in your suitcase and zap the bed and other areas of hotels you stay at when you travel.

4. Replace the grungy old keyboard at your desk if it is stained and discolored. A new one will only cost about $15.00 fora wired one and may be a great investment if it means you feel good instead of bad for a few days of your life. You may even want to consider a washable keyboard at about $25.00.

5. Quit eating at your desk.  Studies show that food is the biggest contributor to germs in the work area.

6. Keep you hands away from your face while working.

7. Wash your hands. It’s still the best defense, but you don’t have to carry wipes with you like the character Mr. Monk did on TV.

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